Esophageal Motility Disorders

John M. Wilkinson, Magnus Halland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Esophageal motility disorders can cause chest pain, heartburn, or dysphagia. They are diagnosed based on specific patterns seen on esophageal manometry, ranging from the complete absence of contractility in patients with achalasia to unusually forceful or disordered contractions in those with hypercontractile motility disorders. Achalasia has objective diagnostic criteria, and effective treatments are available. Timely diagnosis results in better outcomes. Recent research suggests that hypercontractile motility disorders may be overdiagnosed, leading to unnecessary and irreversible interventions. Many symptoms ascribed to these disorders are actually due to unrecognized functional esophageal disorders. Hypercontractile motility disorders and functional esophageal disorders are generally self-limited, and there is considerable overlap among their clinical features. Endoscopy is warranted in all patients with dysphagia, but testing to evaluate for less common conditions should be deferred until common conditions have been optimally managed. Opioid-induced esophageal dysmotility is increasingly prevalent and can mimic symptoms of other motility disorders or even early achalasia. Dysphagia of liquids in a patient with normal esophagogastroduodenoscopy findings may suggest achalasia, but high-resolution esophageal manometry is required to confirm the diagnosis. Surgery and advanced endoscopic therapies have proven benefit in achalasia. However, invasive interventions are rarely indicated for hypercontractile motility disorders, which are typically benign and usually respond to lifestyle modifications, although pharmacotherapy may occasionally be needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-296
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican family physician
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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